We’re back with the third installment of our Fall Wellness Series. Today we’re diving into all things STRESS. We’re exploring ways to mitigate unnecessary stress and highlighting ways wellness practices like acupuncture can promote stress reduction and support your health even through tricky seasons like winter.
(And if you prefer to get right to it and want to get some acupuncture you can do that here.)
A Little Background
What seems like common sense today, that stress and disease are closely related, was not always common knowledge. Let’s go on a quick history adventure!
In the late 1930’s, Hungarian scientist Franz Selye, known as the “father of stress research,” was the first to borrow the term “stress” from the physics lexicon and use it in the context of health. He had a hunch that the rats he was studying were experiencing hormonal responses not only due to the injections he was giving them, but also to the stress caused by the experiments. Selye hypothesized that this additional pressure from the stress of the experiments had negative impacts on many areas, and that it was a crucial factor underlying non-specific symptoms of illness in humans also.
He identified three stages of stress: alarm (fight-or-flight), resistance (second wind), and exhaustion (burnout/ illness). Selye’s theory was the first to connect the pressure of prolonged stress with negative health outcomes. He highlighted the importance of repair, recovery and rest to prevent burnout. Entering the exhaustion phase is dangerous to health not only because it is correlated with poor immune and mental health, but it often has consequences for an individual’s ability to function well in their relationships and job, which can cause even further stress and become a reinforcing factor. Basically, Selye identified what so many of us know to be true. Once you’re burned out it’s really hard to get back to balance. So, what do we do?
Stress is inevitable. But if anything is to be learned from Selye, it is that what IS under our control is to boost resilience, especially during times of high stress. Taking these preventative measures helps avoid the exhaustion phase. Recent research shows increasing stress tolerance and resilience can be considered a developmental goal in the face of adversity.
Adding Acupuncture to Your Stress Resilience Routine
Learning how to deal with stress is as necessary for health as learning how to eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet, how to be active, and how to prioritize sleep.
Acupuncture offers a unique approach to stress relief. It does so through several mechanisms:
- Reduction in Stress Hormones: Acupuncture has been shown to regulate the release of stress hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. By helping to maintain a balanced hormonal state, acupuncture can mitigate the physical effects of chronic stress. A study published in the Journal of Endocrinology in 2013 demonstrated that acupuncture can lead to a significant reduction in the levels of stress hormones, particularly cortisol.
- Endorphin Release: Several studies have found that acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood enhancers. This endorphin release can lead to a sense of relaxation and well-being, contributing to stress reduction.
- Improved Sleep: Many people struggling with stress also experience sleep disturbances. Acupuncture can improve sleep quality by addressing underlying imbalances in the body’s energy flow, allowing for a more restful night’s sleep. A systemic review published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2016 investigated the effects of acupuncture on sleep quality in individuals with stress-related sleep disturbances. The study found that acupuncture significantly improved sleep patterns (more than both sham treatments and pharmacotherapy.
- Psychological Benefits: A review published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2012 summarized the findings from multiple studies and concluded that acupuncture can be considered a complementary therapy for reducing symptoms of depression, which is often related to chronic stress. More recently, a meta-analysis of international studies showed “clinically-relevant benefits” for treating depressive disorders with acupuncture both as an adjunct or stand-alone treatment.
- Muscle Tension Relief: Acupuncture promotes relaxation by activating the body’s natural relaxation response. The needles stimulate the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. This not only helps reduce pain but also induces a sense of calm and well-being. Stress often manifests as physical tension in the body, leading to muscle pain and discomfort. Acupuncture can help alleviate muscle tension and promote relaxation, which, in turn, reduces stress.
- Enhanced Mental Clarity: Acupuncture can help clear the mind and enhance mental clarity, making it easier to manage stress and make rational decisions.
Neuroimaging studies have shown that acupuncture may affect the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for emotions and stress responses. This was demonstrated in research published in (Autonomic Neuroscience in 2010) the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2019, suggesting that acupuncture has a neurological basis for stress reduction.
These research findings support the idea that acupuncture can help relieve stress through various mechanisms, including hormonal regulation, endorphin release, improved sleep, and psychological well-being. While more research is needed to fully understand the complexities of acupuncture’s impact on stress, these studies provide valuable insights into its potential as an effective stress management tool.
So how do we at Lemon Tree utilize Acupuncture to support Stress relief & overall health?! We’re glad you asked!
Personalized Treatment at Lemon Tree Wellness
In Acupuncture, there is no one-size-fits all. Its individualized approach means your treatment plan is unique to YOU. Because the events of your life and your genetics have created a unique set of responses (symptoms), your acupuncturist will conduct a comprehensive health history before treating you. They will take into account your unique constitution, temperament, lifestyle, and stressors. Your treatment plan will be tailored to address your specific history and needs, ensuring that you receive the most effective care.
The Experience of Acupuncture
If you’ve never tried acupuncture, you might wonder what to expect. Most people find the experience to be surprisingly gentle and relaxing. The needles are hair-thin and typically cause little to no discomfort upon insertion. Patients often describe the sensation as a slight tingling or warmth.
The number of sessions needed to achieve significant stress relief can vary from person to person. Some individuals experience immediate benefits, while others may require several sessions to achieve the desired outcome.
So what’s next?!
In a world filled with constant stressors, finding effective methods to manage and alleviate their load is crucial for maintaining our health and well-being. Acupuncture offers a time-tested, holistic approach that can help reduce the effects of stress, promote relaxation, and enhance overall quality of life by helping you to be present within it and reduce longer-term negative health outcomes associated with allostatic load, the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events.
If you’re considering acupuncture as a means of stress relief, you can book with our acupuncturist Ellisia Grove here to begin your journey toward a calmer, more balanced life.
For a review of types of back pain and acupuncture for back pain , see our article on acupuncture and back pain.